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Australia: Bendigo, Blue Mountains, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Great Ocean Road, Melbourne, Mornington Peninsula, Sydney
Blue Mountains, Australia: The Australian bush
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
Crisp, clean, mountain-top air with distant blue haze horizons overlooking awesome canyons and rain forests carpeting the valley floor, waterfalls, sleepy hamlets and the warm smell of Australian bush best describes this backyard of Sydneysiders.
I was to be in Sydney for a week full of meetings. On occasions like these, I usually reach my destination (at least the long haul ones) a couple of days early. That helps me two ways. It puts my body in rhythm with the time zone change and more importantly, it presents an opportunity to explore the town and its neighbourhood.
Blue Mountains are a fantastic one-day side trip from Sydney. For this trip I decided to go with Gray Line who is now becoming my favourite bus-tour company in Australia. Last time round I was with them for a day trip to the Great Ocean Road from Melbourne. Gray Line has a good fleet, and some good folks to take care of you. I enrolled for Gray Line’s Tour 224 that costs $193. I was in safe hands of David the Driver. The trip starts from Gray Line Depot at 8:15AM and ends at Circular Quay or Darling Harbour (if you prefer, as I did) at 6:30PM.
A courtesy coach picked me up at 7:10AM from my hotel. Zigzagging through Sydney roads, picking up other passengers, we reached the bus depot at 7:45. That gave me about 25 minutes to wander around the Pyrmont Bay harbor. The bus depot is just beneath Star City that houses the casino. We departed as scheduled at 8:15AM.
I should say I was lucky for having scheduled my trip the way I did. Just a day before it had snowed in the Blue Mountains and the roads were closed for traffic. Australians called the happening as Crazy Spring. The last snowfall, during this time of the year, was some hundred years ago! Thankfully, when I was out, the sun was out too and the road was all good for traffic.
We travelled west, leaving behind the busy metropolis. The highlight of course was crossing the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge. Western Sydney is now an up market neighbourhood. Once, it was a barren land that was given away for free, to the locals to cultivate. Very soon, the new owners realized that there was good money to sell the land to eager homebuilders and investors. Today, the entire neighbourhood is dotted with some world famous brands’ factories, workplaces as also residences.
Our first stop was at 9AM at Featherdale Wildlife Park located at Doonside. It’s an hour’s stop giving the visitors the opportunity to hand feed kangaroos, cuddle a koala as also visit other wildlife including crocodiles, dingoes, wombats, reptiles and walking through rainforest aviaries. At the time of my visit, the peacocks were displaying their colours to attract the peahens… it was the mating season.
Since we are on the subject, it’s good to know that Australia is home to some 60 species of kangaroos and the country has over 30 million of them. Koalas are lazy not by nature, but are so due to their food intake - eucalyptus & gum leaves – the leaves have only 7% protein thus making koalas take their lives a little easy. Love it.
We left the wildlife park at 10AM. Very soon, we could see, in the far distance, the unmistakable blue horizon. There’s a reason. The mountain tops are densely covered by eucalyptus trees. The oil from the leaves evaporate when the sun shines. The oil-spray casts a blue.
The dateline of Blue Mountains goes back 200 million years. Today the Blue Mountains is home to 27 towns and villages and has about 80,000 dwellers. The largest of the Blue Mountains towns is its capital Katoomba with a population of 13,000.
Our next stop was Echo Point. The point offers excellent views of the 3 sisters. Legend has it the 3 peaks are actually 3 Aboriginal sisters who were cast into stone by a curse. Geology has it that there were actually 7 such peaks, 4 of them collapsed and 3 were separated over time. Whatever the facts, the view of the Jamison Valley from the point is fantastic. The area offers over 160 kilometers of bushwalks through cascades, waterfalls and lush green. Of course, these tranquil walks are not for visitors like us who are touring with the bus on tight time schedules. Blue Mountains have some fantastic lodging facilities making it ideal base to spend a few days.
The tour I was on, offered lunch at 3 Sisters restaurant located at Echo Point. To be honest, I was not happy with the lunch provided by the restaurant. The location was truly outstanding but the food was just average. You may want to opt for this tour without the lunch option. The restaurant, however, had a good menu but that was not for us.
The best part of the tour was yet to come. A combo ride on the Scenic Skyway; Scenic Cableway and the Board Walk. That’s the sequence visitors are advised to take. The bus dropped us at the Scenic Skyway station and picked us up at the end of the Board Walk.
The Scenic Skyway offers good views of the Katoomba Falls; the Scenic Railway is the world’s steepest of its kind and the Board Walk gives an opportunity to walk through the dense rainforest with a glimpse of the once active coalmine. By the time we surfaced, it was 2:30PM. Time to depart to Leura Village. A sleepy little town with all things pretty. We had an hour of free time to explore the town.
We left Leura at 3:30PM to be dropped off at the Olympic Park ferry pier. Our next part of the journey would be on Captain Cook Cruises. We left the pier at 5:30PM cruising on the Paramatta River that offered some great views of the life on the shores and the Sydney skyline. I opted to disembark at the Darling Harbour. It was 6:30PM. The evening was still young. What better than exploring the beautiful harbour and then walking back to the hotel?
It was a day well spent. And well worth it too.
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